If you took every restaurant in the North End and lined them up side by side, you’d probably end up in the parking lot of a Chili’s at the Northgate Mall in Decatur, Illinois. While that would be great for people in Decatur who’ve probably been looking for some decent puttanesca, it’s a little overwhelming for people who actually live in Boston to decide where to eat when they’re in the neighborhood. When it comes to the North End’s abundance of tourist-choked restaurants, it takes a lot of work to figure out which spots are actually good, versus which spots you need to avoid like the tourists in line who will ask you to pronounce Worcester like it’s some kind of party trick.
That’s why we did the work for you.
Here are 18 spots in the North End you can trust. Some of them are among the very best restaurants in the city, while others would merely be the best in Decatur, Il, but all of them are very good.
If you’re automatically skeptical of all of the North End restaurants that have lines of tourists out the door every night, good - you’re right to keep your guard up about places that don’t have to try too hard to get people in. But Neptune is a major exception. It’s one of the best oyster bars in the city with the best oyster bars in the country, and it’s worth waiting out in the cold for. The johnnycake with smoked bluefish is our favorite dish, but it’s all good.
Taranta is the only Italian-Peruvian restaurant in the neighborhood, but it doesn’t make the cut based on novelty alone. With a tiny but comfortable dining room, a bunch of fusion dishes that work really well, and glasses of wine priced in the single digits (a modern miracle), this place is far better than a lot of the better-known restaurants on Hanover. The memory of the cassava root-stuffed gnocchi with slow-braised lamb will haunt every gnocchi dish you have for the rest of your life like a sweet, pillowy pasta ghost.
We’ve always suspected that eating in the kitchen with the chefs after a restaurant closes for the night would be one of the coolest dining experiences you could have. A trip to The Daily Catch on Hanover confirms it, because this place feels less like a restaurant and more like a kitchen with a few tables. The wine comes in plastic cups, the chairs are uncomfortably shoved up against burners and prep surfaces, and the food is so good that it tastes like a meal a great kitchen staff would make for themselves. The menu here consists almost entirely of seafood centric pasta dishes, and while everything they do with squid is great, the aglio olio (a squid bolognese, essentially) is particularly phenomenal.
They’ve been making pizza at the original Regina’s on Thatcher Street since Calvin Coolidge was president. For those of you who failed history, that was a really long time ago. As soon as you walk in the door here, you know you’re going to get something good, and that’s primarily because the whole place is so greasy you feel like your elbow might pop a hole through the table. If you’re not coming here before every single Celtics or Bruins game for a giambotta pie and a pitcher of beer, you’re doing it wrong.
Prezza is a white-tablecloth, candle-lit restaurant on Fleet Street that provides the best fine-dining experience in the North End. When you get there, you might initially wonder why they decided to nearly ruin the atmosphere with a TV above the bar, but then you probably won’t care when the chestnut ravolini with pulled duck and veal broth comes.
If you live in the North End, Monica’s should be the place you hit up on a Tuesday night after a bad day at work when you just need a glass of red and a bowl of bolognese. It’s a tiny, brick-walled spot with pop art hanging above the tables and a menu that hits on just about everything. It’s also got a full liquor license, something that can be surprisingly hard to find in the North End, and which you’ll need after those really bad days at work.
Based on looks alone, Antico Forno appears to be one of those kitschy North End spots that caters to tourists and people who expect their Italian restaurants to come with unlimited breadsticks. But don’t be fooled by the hokey rustic decor and traditional red sauce menu - the brick oven they use for just about every dish really does bring their pastas up a notch and makes it a great place to hide with wine during a snowstorm.
If you’re looking for a pizza with a nicely charred, almost perfectly puffed crust, Locale is your spot. If you’re need a place that has a reliably great craft beer selection in a neighborhood where almost every other restaurant focuses on wine (but that also has good wine, too), Locale’s got you covered there, too. And if you want a spot that’s on Hanover but down towards the harbor where the tourists don’t usually go, then Locale’s here for you. If you’re still looking for more, then we need to talk about how you live your life because you’re kinda being difficult.
There really is never a bad time to go to North Square Oyster. The tiny bar downstairs is perfect for midday oysters or drinks and a few bites after work, and the homier dining rooms upstairs are a great place to escape the tourist hordes with a plate of bacon mac and cheese. The lobster roll is good - because pretty much any lobster roll is good - but the clam roll with pickles is actually our favorite thing on the menu.
Mike’s and Modern dominate the North End pastry scene, of course. Those spots have been visited by every major North American celebrity since 1992, but based on the staleness of their lobster claws and cannolis, the pastries they serve seem to have been hanging around for at least that long, too. Maria’s on Cross Street doesn’t have a single picture of MC Hammer or Bill Clinton hanging on the wall, but it does have baba rum that you would gladly eat for three meals a day. It’s the neighborhood’s best pastry shop.
Sometimes it seems like every suburban family celebrating a birthday from Framingham to Canton is inside of Mamma Maria, but it’s hard to blame them. This white-tablecloth spot in a multi-level brownstone overlooking North Square gives you old North End romance without the kitsch, along with a menu that, with things like uni and crab spaghettini, is definitely a step above most of the neighborhood’s lazier red sauce joints.
Acqua Pazza is one of the newest restaurants in the North End, and in a neighborhood where every other storefront seems to have the word “institution” stenciled on the door, new is good. There are far worse ways to start a night than by sitting at the bar here with a house Negroni and something from their extensive crudo selection.
With slices roughly the size of a roadmap (remember roadmaps?) this slice joint on Salem is the neighborhood’s best drunk pizza spot. Thankfully, the pizza is also plenty good (if overwhelming) when you’re sober, too.
Carmelina’s is tiny and right smack in the middle of Hanover, so it can be hard to get in at times, but it’s worth the hassle during the summer if you can snag one of the tables along the sidewalk. Otherwise, grab a seat at the small bar fronting the open kitchen, because Carmelina’s features one of the better red sauce menus in the neighborhood and almost always has a fun crowd in the brick-walled dining room. Get the frutti di mare and you won’t need to eat for a couple of days.
Galleria Umberto opens at 10:45am and closes when they run out of pizza, which is usually about three hours later. So unless you work nearby, you’re out of luck. If you do manage to get in there for lunch, though, you’re in for some of the best arancini and Sicilian style pizza in the city.
Parla is probably the coolest restaurant in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of places you’d use that adjective for. That’s what you get when you combine a menu that includes a picture of Biggie Smalls, really good cocktails the restaurant manages to put together despite having only a partial liquor license, and copper decor that will make you want to call the bartender “barkeep.” We suggest sticking with the bites and small plates.
Corner Cafe is really the only true bar in the entire North End, but if you’re serious about your drinking, it’s the only one you need. This is a lovely little dive with Bruins jerseys on the wall, bags of chips behind the bar, and (usually) a handful of people playing Keno at two in the afternoon. It’s the perfect place when you need an escape from the manicotti and mandolin music for a night.